May is Mental Health Month, a time when we focus on the problems of mental illness in our country and the resources we have available to us in the fight against mental illness. Unfortunately, in our nation today, mental illness continues to suffer from a societal stigma which hinders people from seeking treatment. Throughout our society, people from all walks of life, the employed and the unemployed, are coping with various forms of mental illness. Depression, stress, anxiety and other mental health conditions do not discriminate between people based on their financial status, societal status, race or gender. The vast majority of these people lead normal lives most of the time. They go to work, go to school and have loving families and wonderful friends. They enjoy hobbies and interests. Their suffering is often quiet and unnoticeable to almost everyone except those closest to them. Sadly, many of these people suffering from some form of mental illness do not get the treatment they need because of their concern for the stigma that may be placed upon them.
The Berryhill Center for Mental Health, an affiliate of Trinity Health Systems, is on a mission to combat the stigma that is often associated with mental illness. The Berryhill Center wants to change people's beliefs and attitudes about mental illness by providing community education and is focused on dispelling the myths and informing the public about the reality of the issue.
The Berryhill Center has one psychiatrist, Dr. Monte Bernhagen, a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant. Our staff also includes one psychologist, two clinical social workers, three mental health counselors and one substance abuse counselor. Our Assertive Community Treatment team provides services for the most severely mentally ill individuals and includes a nurse practitioner, three nurses, a case manager, a vocational specialist and a substance abuse specialist. These services are provided under the supervision of the Berryhill Center's psychiatrist, Dr. Bernhagen. There is a serious shortage of mental health professionals in Iowa, particularly psychiatrists. The Berryhill Center has been working on expanding our telehealth capacity for the last year. We plan to have telehealth clinics in our outlying counties. Individuals would go to the hospital or other location in their county and see the doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant through a computer connection. This would dramatically eliminate the need for some individuals to travel to Fort Dodge for services. We are also working on a Mobile Crisis Team to be available in the community during hours when the center is closed. The members on the team would be able to assess crisis mental health situations ''in the field.'' They would help get friends and family involved to provide safety for the individual in need of help and they would initiate steps to develop a plan for ongoing service. If necessary they would help refer the individual to a hospital with the appropriate mental health treatment facilities.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, close to 20 percent of the American population experiences a form of mental illness in any given year and 50 percent will have a mental illness in their lifetime. Depression and anxiety in the workplace create an enormous expense to employers in terms of health care costs and lost productivity. It is estimated that in the United States, costs associated with depression and anxiety disorders reach as high as $140 billion annually. Such costs not only include direct health care costs but also ''indirect'' costs stemming from work absenteeism and decreased workplace productivity.
Undiagnosed depression is a huge issue when it comes to productivity and quality of work. According to the National Mental Health Association, American employees miss close to 3 million days of work every year due to untreated depression. That is more sick days than employees use for physical illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure or arthritis. Naturally, such absenteeism carries repercussions and even if an employee suffering from untreated clinical depression makes it into work every day, it is unlikely that he or she will be performing at full capacity. The Berryhill Center provides Employee Assistance Programs to employers in our service area who wish to avail themselves of the EAP. This program provides initial assessment and referral services to employees and their families at no cost to the employee. Such services have been shown to reduce the costs associated with mental health problems and substance abuse. The program also helps employees with marital and family problems.
One of the most serious mental health problems we face today is that of suicide. In the United States, about 33,000 people kill themselves every year which is about 10.9 per 100,000 populations. Research on the reasons behind people who commit suicide indicate that 90 percent of suicide victims had a major psychiatric illness and 50 percent were clinically depressed. Statistics also bear out the stark reality that drug and alcohol abuse are definite risk factors for suicide. This is particularly true for the younger segment of our population. About one-half of all suicide victims were coping with chronic alcoholism.
Suicide impacts both genders. Even though the suicide rates are much higher among males, women are about three times more likely to attempt suicide than men, but men are about twice as likely to die as a result of their attempts. With men, the suicide rate increases steadily through the life span peaking after age 75. The rate for women on the other hand, peaks in their late 40s or early 50s.
Many challenges lie ahead of us in treating mental illness and preventing suicide. The Berryhill Center continues to focus on expanding access to care and providing high quality behavioral health services. We believe by working together with others in the community, we can have an impact on the various problems created by mental illness.
Jim Burr is executive director of the Berryhill Center for Mental Health and Monte Bernhagen, M.D., is the medical director of the Berryhill Center for Mental Health.